2nd March 2020
Prepare for Easter now.
Not every one goes on holidays!!! Instead of retreating take advantage of the festival season. Begin planning now for a corporate event that your church may host and think of inviting people from your community eg. families from the cricket club, local school, mothers club.
The Egg Hunt. The key is fun with meaning
This Easter activity can involve the family. Select a suitable open park with small scrub, a beach or a golf course with features. Advertise it as a community event with start time. Begin with a public gathering explaining the Christian significance of Easter before describing the hunt boundaries and rules. Use the smallest solid chocolate eggs sealed with silver paper. Hand out Easter leaflets obtained from the Bible Society or the Lutheran Tract Mission.
The Agape Meal. The key is simplicity and sharing
The practice of ‘the Agape’ was a Christian fellowship meal expressing the koinonia fellowship, family of Christ. Sometimes described as the ‘Love Feast’. More suited for Christian families. The rise of the Agape fits two periods.1.The biblical and early church period. 2. The revival among the Moravians and Methodists. It was not a sacrament. It was a simple picnic type meal with spontaneous, warm sharing..
Invite families to bring one type of finger food for sharing. In between stories, singing, scripture, witness accounts, share all the sandwiches, then all the biscuits, fruit, lollies, then drinks etc. Make it good time of being together.
Passover Meal. The key is rich meaning and symbolism
This may be suited for a number of churches to share together.
the Passover goes back to the story of the Exodus, when the blood of the sacrificed lamb was sprinkled on the door posts of Jewish homes. Christ himself became the ‘Lamb of God’. Peter writes “You know that you were ransomed---with the precious blood of Christ like that of the lamb without blemish or spot.”
Set up a long table. Describe and act out the Jewish Passover and how Jesus changed the meaning. There were four formal cups during the Passover. They were interspersed with the eating of bitter herbs, the eating of the lamb and of the accompanying bread. The youngest person present asked, “What mean ye by this service?” (Exodus 12) Explain the meaning of the old and the changed meaning.
The bread that was eaten with lamb occurred between the second cup and the third cup. It was this bread which was dedicated by the Lord to a new and loftier purpose.
The third cup was called the “cup of blessing.” Paul picks up this phrase when writing to the Corinthians. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the Communion of the blood of Christ.” Jesus gives the cup of blessing a new meaning. (See “The Lord’s Supper,” Ernest F. Kevan, Evangelical Press 1973.) Researching, exploring, explaining and sharing in the events of that evening together can make the Lord’s Supper come alive.
Worth Checking Out
The Colson Centre for Christianity
Now moving to BreakPoint.org this is a world wide ministry that equips Christians to live out their faith with clarity, confidence and courage in this cultural moment. Breakpoint.org with audio commentaries on air has 1,200 outlets with a listening audience estimated at 8 million people.
Essays for the 10th Anniversary of the Manhattan Declaration.
Learn what today’s top Christian thinkers identify as the most pressing issues as well as ways to respond to these challenges in a new book—LIFE MARRIAGE and RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. What belongs to God? What belongs to Caesar.?
“Is Jesus History”? by John Dickson. The Good Book Company,2019.
In listening to attitudes of Australians, the National Church Life Survey showed that only 57% of Australians say that Jesus Christ was a real person who actually lived!!!!!
It is not just what historians know about Jesus, but also how they know it. Matt Schaeffer says, “This book gives clear and compelling reasons—why Christianity is not illogical or irrational” Every chapter has a nutshell summary of the whole chapter. Schaeffer says every minister should have a copy to hand to someone wrestling with the reliability of Christianity.
Is Following Jesus really Possible? Michael Jensen. An abbreviated/modified article appearing in ‘Eternity’ March 2019
Introductory Note: Sometimes being a Christian has been presented in terms of being a disciple of Jesus, a follower who simply aims to copy Jesus example and to do good things. This article illustrates how Jesus teaching in the Gospels must be linked to Paul’s teaching in the Epistles. The first calls us to follow and invites us to us to discipleship and righteousness, the second, (post Jesus death and resurrection) describes how the gift of the Holy Spirit, a new-life and relationship with God changes things.
After writing his great works, “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”, Leo Tolstoy decided that he was going to follow what he thought were the true teachings of Jesus as contained in the ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ For Tolstoy, the Gospels were the heart of the Bible and the Sermon on the Mount was at the heart of the Gospels. As one writer said:
“Tolstoy boiled down the essence of what he thought Christianity was to obeying the five commands of Christ in Matthew 5:21-48. If people would genuinely fulfil these commandments, then the kingdom of God would be activated on earth.”
There were communities set up to implement Tolstoy’s teachings, but not one of them succeeded. One of his disciples later reflected that Tolstoy’s views—which were supposed to build God’s kingdom on earth “alienating him from many friends, brought discord into his family life, strained his relationships with his wife, and left him spiritually alone.” And here’s the thing: Here was a man who (he thought) sincerely tried to live according to Jesus teachings in these verses, and it destroyed him. It proved to be an impossible idealism. And that ought to make us pause: are Jesus’ teachings simply impossible? Are they completely inhuman and unrealistic?
If we literally do what Jesus commands---it means we would be physically cutting off our hands or trying to remove logs from our own eyes. It would mean we would be slaves to trying to produce an impossible holy perfection. No, this is clearly not the way ahead. Two observations, are essential to understanding the sermon on the Mount.
First: Jesus speaks in language that is extreme, in order to make us think again. Jesus is exaggerating for a very important effect—he wants us to, “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” That is a key verse to understanding the whole sermon, because what Jesus is trying to do is to get his audience to do exactly that:--- to seek first God’s kingdom. In other words, he is trying to get us to detach ourselves from the fallen world and instead to long for the world that God intends it to be—including our own hearts. Being a follower of Jesus is unlike anything else. It demands a completely new cast of life, a new perspective, a rebirth, a new heart. We cannot do with anything less than be transformed by a complete changed attitude. That’s exactly what Jesus is getting us to see and understand.
Secondly: Jesus recognises that those who belong to him are not people who have reached sinless-perfection but those who long for mercy. They mourn for their sins, in repentance. Being open to Jesus they also receive mercy and the gift of total forgiveness. It’s not as if Jesus teaches salvation by ‘good works’ in a way that is at complete odds with Paul’s teaching about justification by faith alone. Jesus does not undermine the grace of God in the Sermon on the Mount, rather he brings us into it. He makes us want it. He makes us thirsty and invites us to receive God’s gift of grace so that it is just as if we had never sinned.
A Worship Resource ready for use.
Call to Worship
Leader 1: Enter these doors with thanksgiving.
Come to this place with heart felt praise.
As part of the people of God in this age,
Come and worship the Christ who lives.
Hymn of Praise followed by a Prayer of Confession
Leader 1: Lord God of heaven and earth
who is exalted above all powers and dominions
and who reigns for ever and ever.
Leader 2: We come humbly into your presence
to surrender every proud attitude and
the self-sufficiency that that keeps us from the truth.
All: Loving Father we confess we have been so busy
with our own plans that we have often crowded you
and other people out of our lives.
L 1: We confess times when we have just listened
and been slaves to self-focused feelings.
We have said and done things
of which we are now ashamed.
L 2: There have been times when we should have
spoken up or acted but it was easier to do nothing.
All: We have hidden behind our fears and insecurities
to avoid your call and our responsibility.
We have left the challenges to someone else.
For those attitudes and things we have done that were wrong
and for the things we have not done and that have denied,
your love towards us, we are truly sorry.
L 1: Loving Father bathe our wounds in your mercy and grace,.
Heal and renew us in the bold truth that proclaims
that, Christ died for us once for all.
L 2: Father God, as those buried and raised with Christ we thank you
that the past and death itself no longer has power to put us down.
All: We thank you for the freedom and joy of knowing
we are forgiven, put right with you for ever.
L 1: We thank you that you pour your Holy Spirit and love into our hearts
and minds so that we can be all that you want us to be.
All: We thank you now that as your children you make
us ready and strong to serve you now and for ever. Amen
Alpha: Still a proven Evangelistic Tool.
Shorter video’s, informal dining using noodle boxes, finger food or a table at a café and more emphasis on the local church---that’s the direction the Alpha Course is now taking in Australia.
Alpha used to be Nicky Gumble talking, but now, the presentation is more a magazine format that has a more interactive presentation.
The Alpha approach has runs on the board when it comes to being an effective vehicle to explain the basics of the Christian faith to newcomers. Often regular ‘church
attenders’ also need renewing in core beliefs. In Australia over 500,000 people have attended courses and world wide the numbers have reached 26 million. About 1260 churches hosted a course in 2018 in Australia.
Melinda Dwight the National Director has explained that in more recent years Alpha has been run through local churches rather than by individual people. In Australia it has been discovered that to gain traction it needs to be run more than once. If it is on-going, people gain confidence that its on and they tend to come. The best way to do that is via the church. Alpha seems to have grown up with a range of updated courses.
There is an Alpha Youth series that engages young people with a shorter attention span. Other resources coming out include courses on marriage and pre-marriage. Alpha has a parenting resource that is run the same way as Alpha. It is open to single and foster parents and can be offered to parents on the fringe who have not yet connected to the church.
Alpha is not the only option. Other evangelistic strategies like ‘Christianity Explored’ have emerged over the past few years but Alpha is a “process evangelism” where people enjoy company and are invited to ask questions. Churches often run numerous mothers groups, playgroups, Mainly Music groups, sporting teams, men’s sheds, etc that provide places for people to make friends and belong. These community care groups, while establishing friendships however often fall short in leading people to faith.
Ken Morgan in writing in ‘The Melbourne Anglican’ has said, “The biggest challenge is helping people navigate the transition from “belonging” environments like a sporting team or a playgroup to “embrace the Gospel” like Alpha. It’s not merely a question of technique or grasping a concept.
There’s been a bunch of research by people like Rodney Stark that shows, right from New Testament times, that people adopt the faith of their friends (and families). Faith is overwhelmingly a socially-transmitted phenomenon. When it comes to faith, the quality of relationship generally comes before conveying information (my research indicates this to be true in more than 90% of first time faith commitments)”
To be a witness to our friends is not so much trying to convince people that the Gospel is true so much as offering a reason for our hope.---sharing our motives in living differently. The Alpha Course does present evidence and arguments for faith. Our part is being who we are and sharing the benefits of our faith because we care about our friends.
Melinda Dwight says “Small churches say they don’t have the resources for Alpha but just 2 or 3 people with a lap-top can do the course. Twice a year with four or six people is quite workable.” Melinda says, “Even if only one guest decided to follow Jesus, “that changes the Parish, and it absolutely changes the person.”
Review Intro to Book ----“Born this Way”
“Born This Way, Making sense of science, the Bible and same-sex attraction.” Steve Morrison, Matthias Media 2015.
In an environment where Christianity is under attack and Judeo Christian values are accused of being opposed to equal rights for homosexual people and marriage, when churches are said to be the cause of human rights abuse, Christians need to know what they believe and why. Considering the content of the book Born this Way by Steve Morrison provides a helpful start when it comes to understanding same-sex attraction.
This is an important readable book for Christians who respect the Biblical text and who face public pressure to compromise their view on this sensitive issue. It is also helpful for those struggling to understand their sexuality. What God says is more important and always best practise when placed alongside our own inclinations, or prevailing culture.
The opening chapters explain the cultural context of our day. Over a short period there has been an extreme social reversal from a social control that mistreated people and suppressed homosexual practise to a main-stream endorsement of all aspects of homosexuality. Today public opinion and many in the church marginalize those who oppose free sexual expression.
Where churches have been pastorally slow to explain this dramatic change and full-circle turn around to their congregations, Morrison begins by pointing out that today our culture recognises no objective truth as its guide. He explains how a subtle evolution has taken place when it comes to the changing meaning of words like ‘tolerance’ and ‘homophobia’.
The author makes no bones about the Christian mistreatment of homosexuals. This is something that must be openly confessed and fully recognised at the beginning of any meaningful discussion. At this point in reviewing Morrison’s description I personally note a tendency for the church in some places to correct the past by moving towards the other extreme of becoming champions of a kind of ‘inclusiveness’, that excludes those who hold a Biblical view that is different from that of today’s main-stream public opinion.
Looking at best Science
After considering the important cultural context Morrison moves on to what science says. He stresses that we should seek scientific truth with great care and humility rather than an arrogance that assumes it has all the answers. The topic of same-sex attraction is a very emotional issue. The American Psychological Association defines sexuality as attraction in three stages, desire, excitement and orgasm. This makes an important distinction between attraction and action. By being precise the author goes on to examine these stages.
The tricky thing about science is that often evidence is embellished or ignored. Again Morrison is honest and transparent about these difficulties. (a) Science is about observation, not moral decisions, (b) People are never purely objective. The topic of climate change is an example of this.
Early studies about a so-called “gay-gene” were deeply flawed but the idea a person is born gay is the most influential claim driving “gay rights.” This asserts that homosexuality is good and normal. Morrison looks at various theories for biological and genetic sources including epigenetic studies that space prevents us from detailing here. “So is homosexuality biologically determined at birth? To date science best answer is that someone who experiences same-sex attraction may well have some biological or hereditary factors that play a role in causing this attraction involved---but to a much smaller extent than is often claimed.”
Unlike unchangeable things like skin or eye colour that are 100% determined from birth the hereditary component of same-sex attraction is like a persons desire to eat, smoke or watch TV. This is so low that there must be many other factors involved as well. Most would agree “there are times that some desires (whether they arise because of genetic predisposition or not) that should be resisted.” Society and the media are outspoken about the need to resist tendencies to over-eat, drink or smoke but it points to genetics to justify the morality of same-sex attraction. In short genetics doesn’t determine ethics.
The problem of Bisexuality.
The current public same-sex attraction and redefinition of marriage debate is likely to move on to cross-gender and bisexuality issues so what Morrison says here is of vital importance. He points out that the assumption that people are born either gay or straight is strongly challenged by bisexuality.
Morrison notes that for ever male with a same sex-attraction there are three who experience bisexual attraction. For every same-sex attracted female there are sixteen who are bisexually attracted. This means our way of thinking needs to change from the model of thinking that people are either gay or straight to a new bipolar model. We need to start thinking of a scale with varied degrees.
“One helpful way of understanding sexual attraction is to think of it as a spectrum upon which every person appears. And when it comes to same –sex attraction, the genetic influence upon a persons position on that spectrum is minor, at best. Put simply, if we use the terminology in the way in which it is normally used, a person is not born gay”.
A person may be born with a same sex-attraction but a person may choose not to act on that minor tendency or any other unwanted attractions. This is true of any sexual attraction. A person may not have control over their tendency but they can change their homosexual behaviour. Society condemns, rape, child abuse because any sexual activity is a decision of the individual.
How to read the Bible
Only at this point does Morrison introduce the Bible. God is pro-sex. God made a humanity gendered with two complimentary sexes. Morrison outlines the purpose of sex and says for Christians sexual sin creates conflict between our selfish desires and the new identity we have in Christ. Morrison uses 1Cor. 6:9-20 to show that our sexual nature is somehow connected to our body that is a member of Christ. While Jesus does not specifically draw attention to homosexuality Jesus quotes Genesis 1 and 2 and affirms God’s purpose for sex. He uses “pornia” that refers to the perversions of Leviticus 20.
Feelings and Temptation.
God and science compliment each other but experience tells us that people feel like they were made “being gay.” It is my opinion that every Christian should read this part of Morrison’s book about subtle sub-conscious temptation. Lack of self control, desires of the flesh and the world are all problems. A Christian will recognise a same-sex temptation in order to avoid sin, the world recognises it in order to justify sin.
Some people are prone to the temptation of violence, while others are prone to homosexual activity. Morrison touches the real world when he shares the powerful story of a Christian leader who struggles with same-sex temptation. The Christian life is a work in progress and during transformation we all face the reality of various powerful temptations.
The book helpfully concludes by pastorally and directly addressing three different types of people. “You don’t yet follow Jesus.” “You do follow Jesus and are tempted by homosexuality in some way.” “You follow Jesus and are not currently tempted by homosexuality.”
Reviewed by Rev E.A.(Ted) Curnow.